Too much fun on the Country Cup circuit. Just be wary of visitors hiding in bushes.

The racecaller was wondering what he’d done to deserve this. One of the greats of Australian broadcasting, being interviewed just after sunrise by a young bumbler with pimples.

Gosford Cup day .. 1986. Someone had convinced Ray Warren to leave his warm hotel bed, to be part of an early morning radio segment trackside. With me.

He was calling the local Cup that afternoon. It would be much more enjoyable than what I was putting him through.

I was no expert, but it looked as though the man they call Rabs hadn’t been in bed that long. His room happened to be next to the Gosford RSL club across the road. That may have explained it.

While he gulped a coffee, I was trying to convey to the audience my excitement. And failing miserably.

He could have walked away. Instead, the great man saved me. Struggling though he was, as dusty as the Sahara, he launched into a passionate portrayal of the hours ahead.

He explained what it meant to be part of Cup day. Any Cup day. And if it happened to be your local town, well, even better.

Exactly what I was trying to say.

I’d fallen in love with Gosford’s big racing event two years earlier. Because I backed the winner, a tough little Kiwi named Fountaincourt.

Can you believe I still remember his name? I forget what night to put the bins out, but I can recall a winner from 27 years ago.

He was topweight, after winning the Auckland Cup the year before.

The gutsy gelding charged up that short straight like Phar Lap. And I celebrated like I owned him.

I’ve loved Cup Days ever since. Wherever they’re run. And I’ve been to a few.

In the late eighties we took a bus to a tiny racecourse on the NSW North Coast. Corindi Beach, near Coffs Harbour.

Now, when I say racecourse, I mean a circular stretch of grass without an outside fence. I’m not sure if it’s still there.

The longest race was 600 metres. Getting a decent start was important.

Granted, this wasn’t Flemington. The rules of racing were fairly relaxed. Horses were allowed to run in more than one race.

We started backing the multiple starters, thinking any experience on the goat track had to be beneficial.

There were bookies there. From memory, they drove away smiling in expensive cars.

There was also a foot race. One full lap. We bet on that too.

Two of our boys were nominated. The preparation was hardly ideal. Pies, and a stubbie or three.

A local runner, who may well have trained with De Castella, looked the goods. And raced accordingly. Until our skipper stepped in.

He’d managed to position himself behind a bush in the back straight. The local, now way out in front, had no idea what hit him.

A low, copybook tackle. The captain managed to hold him down long enough for our boys, lungs bursting and heads spinning, to take the quinella.

There may well have been a protest. My memory is a little hazy from that point.

As wonderful as those days were, there’s nothing like a country cup in Queensland.

Tiny tracks, dotted around a giant state. You can’t help but have fun.

They come from all over, often travelling hours. All for a punt, a sip, and a chat.

I was back in Cairns for Cup Day a few years ago. Nothing had changed. Wonderful fun. After the last, The Angels were playing in a back paddock. Where else does that happen?

The circuit is now in full swing. Rockhampton last month. Mackay last week. Townsville next week. And then Cairns.

Look hard, and you’ll find a Cup happening on any given weekend. Tomorrow? Welcome to Ilfracombe, a dot on the map way out west. If you hit Longreach you’ve gone too far. Just.

It’s the Willowie Cup. Eight runners on a dirt track.

Sadly, I won’t make it, but I know they’ll have a ball. Tips? Some important ones.

Pace yourself. Think twice if you spot a horse backing up. And if they ask you to go in the foot race, don’t. You never know who could be lurking in the bushes.

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7 Responses to Too much fun on the Country Cup circuit. Just be wary of visitors hiding in bushes.

  1. Ha that reminds me of the insect in full flight down the straight of the Gold Coast Turf Club to get the chocolates.

  2. 1986 .. who will never forget the mighty battle of Sea Pictures and Colour Page both trained by Brian Mayfield- Smith down the straight at Gosford.
    Ridden by the mighty Jim “Pumpa” Cassidy he beat home his New Zealand mate Nigel Tiley on Colour Page.
    I backed both and had a quinella. I was happy.
    But I still think Colour Page was the better horse. Just Nigel was outridden by Jim.

  3. I just want to say I have just returned from the Grafton Cup – Ramornie Carnival.
    I love the banter between punter and bookmaker.
    The challenge to ask for another point in odds – only to be told “it has no chance mate” to which the informed punter says “well give me 2 points now!”. Happy to oblige they write the ticket bag your cash and hope to not see you after the race.
    I have attended this Carnival now for 24 years straight – the first time in 1988 to see Sasha Bijou win the Cup and Larry Olsen boot home Regal Affair in the Ramornie.
    I must say the best and strongest betting ring that I have experienced outside of the Melbourne ring.
    Shame this year to see the bookies numbers have halved – whilst the fun and banter continues, sadly it appears the bookies will soon be a part of racing soon to be extinct.
    The licencing of sporting bet companies and the TAB agencies to bet “fixed price” now signifies the end of the humble bagmen at our tracks.
    People staying at home – betting online whilst watching the races on our 50 or 60 inch plasmas. Is this the future for horse racing?
    Looks like we are fast heading to the Hong Kong model where the government run the betting – no bookies – well none that are official – and the punting turnover goes exclusively through the Hong Kong based TAB.
    Last year turnover on Sportstab fixed odds was around 68% a massive increase as punters bet and lock in their odds and returns prior to the race.
    Maybe the race tracks need to become more innovative in getting people to the track – lunch and drink packages with good amenities and services. After now visiting Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Japan tracks in recent years Australian race tracks and racing are lagging behind in customer service, amenities and catering.

    Hong Kong International race day our package was all you can eat 4 course buffet – including seafood, return transport to the track, entry to an exclusive box, unlimited beer, wine, soft drinks and a free $20 betting voucher, admission and race book all for $100 AUD.
    You wonder why people are staying away in droves from our tracks.

    The race clubs must be wishing another Black Caviar comes along soon so they can make some money!

    • All very true Daz. There’ll soon be a generation of punters who have no idea what it’s like to battle the bookies on track, which is very sad. And you’re dead right about the need to make a day at the races more attractive, especially for non-punters. The competition out there is major; people just don’t accept second class facilities any more. I must say what they’ve done at Doomben of late is a step in the right direction, but it needs to keep going. And as well as amenities, I reckon it comes back to prizemoney. Top prizemoney equals top horses, making the day much more exciting for all. Some of those days over the carnival this year were rippers (thanks Peter Moody!), espeically when the top liners were involved. The powers that be need to realise that they can’t afford NOT to bump up the prizemoney. And hopefully mate, you and I will be able to take some of it home!

  4. Prizemoney for the owners and the industry is of paramount importance.
    I would like to see them make some areas for people to attend in the grand stands or even the members areas where you can buy a package and “have a day at the races” and be treated like a member and get dressed up.
    Maybe I should ask for a job in marketing.
    There are no publications, or packages targetting the tourists – nothing in hotels – nothing with tour companies.. so sad.
    I met a Irish tourist with his mates at Chermside last week – he didn’t even no we raced in Brisbane .. so he called up whilst I was with him and asked how could they come and enjoy our racing in Australia.
    He was told pay your money at the gate …
    He told me of the Irish tracks where you get lunch, a cooked meal, and then afternoon tea whilst being hosted in a reserved area within the main grandstand – even having access to the parade ring and horses with a club escort.
    Shame on our racing.
    I am stepping down off my soap box now.
    Over to you.

    PS. We have two average race venues in Brisbane… limited training facilities forcing trainers into northern NSW, west to Beaudesert and further north to the Sunshine Coast. Why not invest in our future .. knock them both down and make a super track with grass, synthetic, lights and dirt tracks. We could race all year around.
    Use the centre areas for recreation like tennis, polo and other sports. These administrators need to pinch themselves and move forward. Eagle Farm is a disgrace – grandstands with dry rot and mildew.

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